Image Is Everthing: Formula One Must Proceed with Caution

Michael PettiferContributor IOctober 1, 2011

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 11:  F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone (R) talks with Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel (L) before the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 11, 2011 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Formula One has always made people sit up and take notice. The piercing sound of the sport's V8 engines and the striking aesthetics of the futuristic-looking cars make even the most casual of viewers pay attention.

F1, however, is a fast-evolving sport, and nothing remains the same for too long. On the horizon are changes that will affect the look of the cars and, perhaps most controversially, their sound.

F1 bosses are confident that the changes will have little to no impact on the popularity of the sport, but are they sacrificing something that has attracted worldwide audiences for decades?

The latest confirmed change for next season—one that will be immediately noticeable when the 2012 cars are revealed—is a new rule concerning the height of the cars' noses. In an attempt to improve safety, the front of the cars will undergo a significant redesign and, as a result, will be a lot closer to the ground, with the hope being that the lower noses will prevent the cars from jumping over each other after collisions.

The announcement led to two high-profile members of the F1 paddock giving their views on what the change would mean in terms of the look of the cars.

Ross Brawn, the Mercedes GP boss, said: "The cars will not get to look beautiful. The nose (will be) an ugly wave."

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Sam Michael, technical director at Williams, agreed with Brawn's prediction. "The front part is reminiscent of a dolphin's nose in profile...looks ugly," said the respected and experienced Australian.

Only time will tell if the 2012 cars will be as off-putting as Brawn and Michael say they will be. Unfortunately, viewers may notice that another of their senses will be less involved in the coming years.

The news, which was heavily publicised earlier this season, that Formula One cars will use smaller, greener engines from 2013 onwards, is another issue that is worrying a number of high-profile people within the sport, including Bernie Ecclestone.

The engines will switch from 2.4 litre V8 units to 1.6 litre, four cylinder, turbo systems—a change that is likely to mean that engine noise will be significantly lessened or, at the very least, different to what it is now.

The aim is to improve the efficiency of F1 engines by 50 percent and to make greener engines in road cars more desirable. Those goals may be commendable, but is it taking something away that is unique to F1? Will it end up hurting the sport as a result?

In my opinion, issues regarding safety and the environment are more important than most other things, although I believe new changes have to be implemented in the right way, so as not to hurt the sport. F1 is fast, F1 is loud and F1 is visually appealing. It must remain that way in order to hold on to its current fan base and to attract new fans. 

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